IT, 2017

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis

IMDb

I saw IT, a horror movie outside of October, at an 8:45pm Monday night showing. The theatre was packed to the brim. So the question is: Why is IT so popular?

It really shouldn’t be. The 1990 version is pretty bad. Not only was it bad, but it was long, boring and had a disappointing payoff. Its only real saving grace was Tim Curry as Pennywise, who appears to be having an absolute riot at any given moment, as to be expected of Tim Curry. My answer really must come down to the iconography and meme-ification of Pennywise, the continuing prevalence of the fear of clowns, misplaced nostalgia and some pretty great marketing. Regardless of WHY it’s so damn popular, my recommendation is to take advantage of the popularity and see it in a big audience. The audience will scream, laugh and overall have a great time. IT is a literal crowdpleaser.

IT, however, is not without flaws. The biggest of which is its story. Excluding the prologue, the plot only really starts after a full hour, with that first hour being used for world-building and establishing the (rather large) list of main characters. And even then, some of the characters feel really underdeveloped, to the point where their inclusion more seems to be out of fear of backlash at their removal than an actual desire to utilise the character. Once the plot gets going, it still doesn’t deliver anything stellar. I liked the themes of grief and abuse specifically, but I don’t think anything else was really worth even bringing up.

Somehow, though, the film still remains highly entertaining all the way through. Performances were mostly great. All of the kids (especially Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) and Sophia Lillis) were very well played, except for the Stanley character, who stuck out like a sore thumb to me. This film made the excellent decision to cut the entire adult plot from the original and just focus on the kids, who were much more interesting and fun to spend time with. It was especially cathartic to see kids with realistic conversational language. The simple fact that I can’t recall another movie where I heard a kid make a ‘your mum’ joke made it funny. And this is a funny, funny movie. I also appreciated the 80’s aesthetic, this particular story would only be more dated by trying to modernise it. Plus it’s 2017, it’s only natural for me, being born in 1996, to be nostalgic for 1987 right?

Bill Skarsgard did a fantastic job as Pennywise. I personally prefer Tim Curry’s “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but this new Pennywise has just enough new to keep it fresh and just enough kept to keep it being the same character. Good adaptation. One nitpick I have is that they use this weird shaking effect whenever he’s running at someone (you can see it in the trailers) which I found really obnoxious, and I wish there was less of it.

Ultimately, IT was a good time and I recommend IT. I guarantee that IT will be a good time if you see it in a large group or in a big crowd. IT was a surprisingly good movie.

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Death Note, 2017

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, and no one else worthwhile

IMDb

I normally don’t like to give movies a rating. I feel like it oversimplifies my thoughts on the matter to the audience. A single digit becomes the focal point for the entire review, and unfair comparisons between the films I review result.
I think, however, it’s appropriate to use one in the case of Death Note (2017). My scale is 0 is unwatchable, 10 is among the best films I’ve ever seen and 5 is mediocre.

4/10.

Far from unwatchable, but not good either.

I commend the film as an adaptation for following common sense (surprisingly rare for adaptations) of not at all trying to follow the same plot as its source material, as Death Note is a pretty convoluted story. Unfortunately, the one they left in wasn’t very interesting.

Taking the film at face value, not comparing it to the anime or the manga (which I haven’t read), the whole thing feels somehow uneventful, the kind of movie that I’ll forget about within a week. I didn’t form a connection to any of the main characters, I didn’t feel any impact when major plot points occurred. It sometimes had interesting cinematography, but it felt like all of those shots were handled by a seperate team, as the film is riddled with the typical shot – reverse shot with standard camera angles. If you had never heard of Death Note, maybe the premise would be good enough to pull you through, but to those people I say: Go watch the anime instead.

As I mentioned above, the film makes little effort to directly translate the source material, and most characters are significantly different. Light turner, for instance, doesn’t even slightly resemble Light Yagami. Light Yagami is outwardly very calm, in control, never giving even an inflection that would give him away and only from his inner monologue do we get any clue of how on edge he is. He’s a master manipulator, and when you truly get to understand him, he’s quite scary. Light Turner is an angsty teenager that will comically flip out over the slightest thing that doesn’t go his way, and we’re told he has a god complex, but he never really shows it. Light Yagami is interesting, Light Turner is not.

The ‘Misa’ equivalent, Mia, is also uninteresting, being demoted from pop-star to cheerleader, and being played by a Kristen Stewart wannabe who never once shows an actual emotion that I bought. The relationship between the two similarly doesn’t really resemble the source material at all, which I want to stress isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it wasn’t interesting.

L and Ryuk, however, were actually translated quite well. Ryuk doesn’t really change at all, but his performance by Willem Dafoe was great. L goes through a bunch of changes, both in the way that he acts and his overall aesthetic and backstory, but keeps enough characteristics that make him true to his original character. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this movie, he is actually interesting.

Strangely enough, I’m going to recommend that only fans of Death Note see this movie. It’s actually pretty fun to see what a poor representation its main characters are, and to laugh at the americanisation of what was a very Japanese thing. For everyone else, I recommend the anime. It’s very interesting and really gripping.

Alien: Covenant, 2017

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender
While I ultimately have a lot of mixed feelings about Alien: Covenant, my main takeaway is that I quite enjoyed it. Certainly more so than its overly confusing predecessor Prometheus. My short review: if you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, then go watch Covenant. It’s pretty good, and answers many more questions than Prometheus ever did. If you’re not a fan, this one probably won’t change your mind.
 
To get into some more specifics, I walked in not knowing how direct of a sequel to Prometheus this would be. If I had I probably would have been less enthused to go see it, but nonetheless the film captured my attention with its dedication to world-building. Like no other film in the franchise, this one successfully expands the world of they inhabit and revitalises an interest in its history and intricacies. This is so much the case, that it almost makes Prometheus feel like a prequel to Covenant, rather than the other way round. I walked out of the movie simultaneously satisfied by what I had learned about the universe of the franchise and wanting to know more, which I see as a really good thing.
 
However, I didn’t come to watch two hours of lore, I came to watch a movie, and on that front I can only call it good, but not great, with a few really great bits. H.R. Geiger’s design work resonates strongly, and I liked the aesthetic of the new world and new creatures. I also thought that Michael Fassbender was fantastic, twice as good as the last one (watch the movie, you’ll get it). It looked and sounded great overall, and I can’t think of any bad performances. It had some really excellent tension, I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, holding my breath for bits and that’s very commendable.
 
It also had an overall quite forgettable peripheral cast. Gone are the super charismatic and memorable side characters from James Cameron’s Aliens, centred around the notably great action hero Ripley. I only really remember the characters by their stereotypes, especially the incredibly on-the-nose Tennessee (who is actually pretty enjoyable, to the film’s credit). The entire premise is kind of meh, and the story hinges on one character continuously making some terrible terrible decisions. Yep, unfortunately this movie made me want to get up out of my seat and yell “DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT YOU MORON” and considering this is from the same director as Alien, one of the most influential Sci-Fi and Horror movies ever, I can’t give it a pass.
 
So yeah, mixed bag. Overall, it is a good time, and definitely worthwhile for fans of the series, but it’s a far cry from the first two films.

Get Out, 2017

Directed By: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

IMDb

Get Out is the best film that I’ve seen this year so far. I highly recommend you go see it. If you were avoiding it because you don’t like horror, rest assured that is more of a thriller, featuring more comedy elements than it does horror.

The characters and writing were great, and I really enjoyed the genuine suspense the plot had me in. I had no idea exactly where the film was going to go until it went there, but it didn’t cheat, there were plenty of clues. I don’t get that experience very often, so it was a real treat.

I also enjoyed the film’s aesthetic, using classic horror-esque techniques in colour palette, soundtrack and cinematography to get the audience on edge. The use of comedy in its first two acts to establish the racial themes in a lighthearted manner, before twisting them into the horrifying reality in the third is freaking brilliant.

Speaking of Comedy, the comic relief character is fantastic, one of the best parts of the movie. It really shows that the writer/director, Jordan Peele, is a comedy veteran. The more intense tones aren’t undercut by the comedy though, the balance is masterful.

Go see Get Out. Please. I want Jordan Peele to make more movies.

Split, 2016

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson

IMDb

Split was pretty damn entertaining. I quite liked the idea of the premise and despite the occasional M Night Shyamalism, I think it was pretty well executed.

Credit must be given to James McAvoy’s performance, which he just nails, playing a man with a Dissociative Identity Disorder (sort of) and thus has to perform as many diverse characters, sometimes interacting with one another. He nails it. Once you’re familiar with the characters he plays you can tell which one he is usually just from body language alone.

Anya Taylor-Joy, as the protagonist, also does quite a good job, I certainly enjoyed the exploration of her character and spending time with her. The other two leads, however, were actually quite crap. Fortunately we don’t see too much of them.

Anyone familiar with Shyamalan’s work will know that the vast majority of his recent films have ranged from bad to terrible, so it was encouraging to see some clever and competent film making here. However there are still issues. The one that stood out to me was tonal dissonance. Clearly the film was trying to be taken quite seriously and to keep the audience quite tense. Despite this, the film kept throwing funny moments in there. Totally ruins the tone, but makes the film all the more entertaining.

Something that should be addressed is that the film doesn’t even attempt to portray DID as a realistic disorder. I know absolutely nothing about the matter, but early on it becomes pretty clear that the film isn’t trying to do so anyway, so I just rolled with it and enjoyed the ridiculous spectacle presented to me. Trust me, I got some pretty good laughs in the climax of the film as a result. I think it’d be pretty interesting to see a film tackle the topic in a more serious manner one day though, as it is pretty intriguing and I think it has a lot of potential in the medium.

If you’re at all interested by the trailer then check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.

P.S. it’s not scary at all. The trailer kind of implies that it is, but this simply isn’t the case.

10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016

Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg

Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

IMDb

Really enjoyed it. The most stand out feature was the performances, particularly John Goodman’s (not to discredit Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was also excellent). His performance and the way the film was directed and edited brought a fantastic level of intensity. The writing was also excellent, it had me constantly going back and forth on whether I thought Goodman’s character was telling the truth or not, and didn’t really figure it out until it was revealed, which was refreshing for a hollywood film.

My only criticism is in a CGI effect which is so ridiculously out of place in this highly realistic film that it’s almost laughable. This doesn’t spoil the film as a whole though, and I highly recommend you check it out.